Tuesday, 18 July 2023, 09:46
A bronze statue of John Lennon sitting playing his guitar can be found in Plaza de las Flores in Almeria. Andalucía’s easternmost city is also home to the Lennon Almeria Forever association, which is involved in the organisation of the Almeria Beatles Weekend and other events associated with the Fab Four. Last year the festival took place in October and this year it is due to be held in December.
But what of this connection to the boy from Liverpool? Well, in 1966, Lennon, along with his first wife Cynthia and a then four-year-old Julian, came to the city where they stayed at Finca de Santa Isabel, which is now the Casa del Cine. They were there as Lennon was starring in Richard Lester’s black comedy How I Won the War, which was being filmed in Tabernas, the ‘mini-Hollywood’ film studio, famous as the location of many Westerns. Also known as Cortijo Romero, the house is also said to have been used by Clint Eastwood and Brigitte Bardot.
Lennon played the role of Gripweed in the film, which also starred Michael Crawford and for which reviews are not exactly raving. “An absurdist fourth-wall breaking take on the futility of armed conflict based in part upon Patrick Ryan’s comic novel of the same name,” is how comedy.co.uk describes it.
In fact, Spanish media will have you believe that during his stay at the Finca, Lennon wrote the song Strawberry Fields Forever, inspired by the miles and miles of, well, strawberry fields. Anyone who has been to Almeria will know that is full of greenhouses and fields growing fruit and vegetables.
However, British theories on the inspiration for the film will tell you that the song was written as a tribute to the Salvation Army children’s home called Strawberry Fields which was not far from Lennon’s childhood home. Either way, he did pen the lyrics in 1966, which coincides with the year he was in Almeria.
Another story connected to Lennon, which is probably more well-known in Spain than the UK is that of Juan Carrión, a plucky English teacher from Cartagena, who, upon hearing that Lennon was in Almeria filming, got on a bus and headed to the location in the hope of meeting his idol.
Carrión would use Beatles lyrics, which he transcribed from listening to them on Radio Luxembourg, along with films and BBC news to teach his pupils. “He was a pioneer of using multimedia, BBC news, films and Beatles songs to teach English,” said Javier Adolfo Iglesias, author of Juan and John, the Teacher and Lennon in Almeria (2013), in an interview shortly after Carrión’s death in 2017.
Upon his arrival in Almeria, Carrión managed to deliver a note to Lennon via one of the production assistants. He was invited to go to see the Beatle, where Carrión’s main objective was to ask the musician to correct his transcriptions, which as the story goes, Lennon obligingly did. It is also said that some of Carrión’s pupils’ own compositions were worked into songs on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album, which was released the following year and from then on, Carrión received records, as well as the lyrics and even musical scores of the Beatles’ subsequent hits, sent by Lennon himself.
Carrión’s story is the inspiration behind the 2013 David Trueba film Vivir es Fácil con los Ojos Cerrados (Living is Easy with Eyes Closed), its name taken from the lyrics of Strawberry Fields Forever.
So if you’re visiting Almeria, delve deeper into the connection between the Andalusian city and John Lennon by visiting the Casa del Cine and checking out the statue to him on Plaza de las Flores.
• The Casa del Cine is now a museum dedicated to Almeria’s film industry and is open from Tuesday to Sunday. For opening times, tickets and further information visit: www.almeriaciudad.es/cultura/lugares-de-interes/casa-del-cine
• Lennon Almeria Forever association: Facebook LennonAlmeriaforever
• For further information about the Beatles Weekend and other things to see in Almeria, visit the Almeria tourism website: www.turismodealmeria.org
Almeria is also the ideal place for history buffs. From the tenth-century Islamic Alcazaba and Medina in the historic centre, to a chilling reminder of the role the city played during Spain’s bloody civil war, there is plenty to see and do.
From October 1936 to the spring of 1938, Almeria witnessed the construction of 4.5 kilometres of tunnels for the city’s inhabitants to shelter in during the bombings. At nine metres deep, there were 67 access points and they could house 34,144 people (at that time the population of Almería was around 50,000).
They can be visited today and are the ideal way to combine a lesson about Spain’s past and a cool retreat during the hottest months of the year.
Vistors are shown different sections of the shelters, which, while in use, had areas including a storeroom for food and a nursery for children.
Other historic places of interest include the train station. Built in the late 19th century with the first line, Almería-Guadix, inaugurated in 1895, the railway was initially introduced to transport iron ore from the inland mines. The old central building of the station is an example of iron architecture, characteristic of the industrial and functional buildings of the second half of the nineteenth century.
Another reminder of Almeria’s industrial history is El Cable Inglés, the iron ore loading bay located on Almadrabillas beach, at the terminus of a branch line of the railway. It was originally owned by the English mining company the Alquife Mines Railway Limited.
For further information about what to see and guided tours of the war shelters, visit: www.turismodealmeria.org.
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